Humans Absorb Less Protein From Plant-Based Meat Than Normal Meat

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The researchers’ experiments revealed that meat replacement peptides were less water-soluble than chicken peptides and were not as well absorbed by human cells.

Plant-based meat supplies less protein to human cells than chicken meat

The push for plant-based meat has already gained a lot of support. However, it’s not understood how much of the protein makes it into human cells, despite the fact that protein-rich plants like soybeans are often used as components.

Researchers report that proteins in a model plant-based alternative were not as easily absorbed by cells as those from meat in a recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Meat Substitute vs Chicken

A meat substitute (left) resembles chicken meat (right), but its proteins are not absorbed as well by human cells. Credit: Adapted from Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.2c01711

Almost every kind of replacement meat, from ground beef to fish sticks, is now available for purchase by consumers. Plants are dried into a powder and combined with spices to simulate the appearance and texture of the real thing. Typically, the combinations are then heated, moistened, and put through an extruder.

Because the plants used to manufacture them are rich in protein and low in unhealthy fats, these products are often considered to be healthier than animal meats. However, laboratory tests have shown that the breakdown of replacement proteins into peptides is inferior to that of proteins from meat.

Osvaldo Campanella, Da Chen, and colleagues wanted to go a step further and see if human cells can absorb similar amounts of peptides from a model meat alternative as they can from a piece of chicken.

The researchers created a model meat alternative made of soy and wheat gluten with the extrusion process. When cut open, the material had long fibrous pieces inside, just like chicken. Cooked pieces of the substitute and chicken meat were then ground up and broken down with an enzyme that humans use to digest food.

In vitro tests showed that meat-substitute peptides were less water-soluble than those from chicken, and they also were not absorbed as well by human cells. With this new understanding, the researchers say the next step is to identify other ingredients that could help boost the peptide uptake of plant-based meat substitutes.

The study was funded by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Reference: “Characterization and Cellular Uptake of Peptides Derived from In Vitro Digestion of Meat Analogues Produced by a Sustainable Extrusion Process” by Da Chen, Diana Rocha-Mendoza, Shengyue Shan, Zachary Smith, Israel García-Cano, Julie Prost, Rafael Jimenez-Flores and Osvaldo Campanella, 22 June 2022, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.2c01711

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